Illustration of a teacher leading a class while administrators look on.

Leadership pilot takes off

BY MICHELLE KEARNS

After its launch last year as a GSE pilot project, the Buffalo Aspiring Leadership Academy, or BALA, continues this year with nine candidates working with principal-mentors in nine Buffalo Public Schools. Design elements are similar to the Teacher Residency Program: Members of this year’s class work in schools and do GSE coursework that completes the requirements of the New York State School Building Certificate, a qualification for any school leadership position in the state.

Like the Teacher Residents, BALA students learn as they immerse themselves in the work at their schools: They learn to become principals, pass the state exam and start a new chapter in their career as school leaders. Already, eight graduates from the inaugural 2020 class have jobs in Buffalo schools as assistant principals, or in other positions of leadership.

For this year’s class, the pandemic led to an adjustment, which BALA liaison Teresa Lawrence would like to build on as she develops and shepherds the program. Because of the building closures of last spring, BALA candidates did coursework before they started to work in schools with their mentors. This led to more insight, and confidence, about policy and process: They got more out of the experience and made more significant contributions, said Lawrence.

It was an unintended, positive outcome. Taking courses before starting to work in schools gave students more context and awareness. “This allows for increased textbook knowledge while building relationships,” she said. “It makes a whole lot of sense.”

BALA, like similar programs around the state, began with government funding and support. Buffalo Public Schools continue teacher salaries when the members of BALA leave teaching jobs to begin the residency.

The program’s connection with Buffalo Public Schools creates a forum for its leaders to contribute to coursework, tailor instruction and highlight the new district bargain with students and their families: It defines education as a civil right and invites collaboration.

This is a natural fit with BALA and its focus on training leaders who understand the importance of culturally responsive curriculums, social justice and diversity, said Lawrence.

To her, collaborative thinking like this helps define a more appropriate and modern approach to teaching students. “These aspiring leaders in our program are soldier-advocates,” said Lawrence. “Education is changing. As a result, so is the leadership required to make the change. That’s exactly what this program is about.”

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Developing a transformational approach, building on tradition. As understanding of, awareness about and experience with GSE’s Teacher Residency Program has grown, so has interest in and demand for it—and subsequently its impact. The program and its approach to teacher training is now in its third year in partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools.